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Grateful for What Was, Longing for What Could Have Been

I have to throw my hat in the ring of blog posts that are sure to pop up in the next few hours.

Habs fans will find themselves in one of these groups:

  1. Content with the season, happy to have gone further than anyone thought they would,
  2. Unhappy that some guys didn’t show up when it mattered, and the coach tied one hand behind his team’s back,
  3. As the title says, grateful for the run, but knowing that this could have went further.

There were some painful moments in these playoffs, and some players who seemed to loaf their way through the post-season really didn’t help their team. At all. The coaching staff was taking one step forward and one step backward. But if I told you in early April that the Canadiens would have made it to the Conference finals, I guarantee you’d either call me crazy, or take it and run to the bank.

When you knock out the defending champs, the league’s top team, and the league’s 2 golden boys in the process, you’ve got a lot to be happy about. Then again, once you get that far, the rest “looks” a lot easier, doesn’t it? Enter Michael Leighton. Say what?!? In reality, the Canadiens had no answer for the Flyers dynamic offense and tougher defense. They managed to crack the shell in game 3, but the Flyers quickly adjusted and regrouped. They deserve credit for executing their game plan, and getting back to it when they faltered.

Some Habs fans viewed any game after avoiding the sweep vs the Capitals as gravy. That’s fine, and more power to you, but I’m not one of those people. After 17 years of not getting this far, or anywhere even close, I desperately wanted the Canadiens to write at least one more happy chapter for this season. You don’t get any awards for getting to the Eastern Conference Finals. In fact, you only get a worse draft pick. You get some irreplaceable memories and unforgettable moments, but that’s about it. That’s what Leafs fans hang their hats on.

All this being said, I’m hugely proud of this team, and some of the players in particular; Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges, Hal Gill, P.K. Subban, Dominic Moore and Jaroslav Halak. These guys played with guts and determination worthy of recognition by legions of Habs fans for decades to come. I’d gladly have any of their names on the back of the Habs jersey that I don’t own (yet)! Some guys have hopefully played their last game in a Habs jersey. I won’t get in to names…it’s just not the time.

Right now we should be thankful for this roller coaster season. A team that few believed in made things much more interesting and fun than they probably should have. Bob Gainey put this group together, and admittedly didn’t know how it would turn out. You’re a genius when it works, and a bum when it doesn’t. Bob certainly went out on a high, but he should thank a guy that was drafted in the 9th round that he nearly traded in February for getting him there, and beyond. Jaroslav Halak is the team’s MVP, both in the regular season and in the playoffs. Some of his feats will go down in Canadiens lore as among some of the best performances in the team’s history. It didn’t culminate in anything tangible, which means they may be quickly forgotten, but they shouldn’t be. While Gainey’s “science experiment” is not perfect, and while replacement GM Pierre Gauthier certainly has his plate full with salary cap issues, he finally managed to bring in heart, grit, skill, pride and leadership to the Canadiens organization, something that had sorely been lacking for years. Well, I’m relieved that it’s back now, and it appears that it’s here to stay. While the size component is still missing, that will be among Gauthier’s priorities to address. How he will do that is also a post for another day.

The future is far from clear, and the path to the cup no easier than it was a year ago, however I feel a heck of a lot more comfortable getting on a roller coaster with this group than any group that we’ve seen over the past 15 years. So many guys played the role of hero. So many of them figured out what it takes to compete in the playoffs. It’s unfortunate that it’s over, but hey, it’s Montreal. It’s the summer. We can now peel ourselves off the couch and reintroduce ourselves to sunshine. Life goes on, and October will roll around sooner than later.

Some early things to look forward to:

  • The “centennial” celebrations will mercifully, finally, come to an end. Love the past, but it’s time to look ahead.
  • Expectations should now be higher – no more praying for 8th place.
  • Guy Boucher – if not the man himself, then certainly the fervour to get him here.
  • Someone VERY deserving will wear the ‘C’ next year, and several other deserving guys will wear the ‘A’.
  • The Leafs still suck.
  • http://tygerbythetail.blogspot.com/ Tyg

    Having just read a link you posted on twitter (thanks BTW) it seems the new owners are not going to be content without a 25th Cup, which is something Molson has stated previously as well. I don’t think mediocrity is going to cut it anymore, especially after this year, and it seems the owners and managers are acknowledging this. I’m not sure what tweaks Gautier will make, but I’m glad this team – from the top down – seems finally dissatisfied with merely scraping into the playoffs year after year. I too, felt something was lacking for the past decade a half within the organization and the locker room, and these boys have restored that this year, so I’m finally optimistic without feeling delusional.

    Love you bullet points at the end. Agree with every one of them. Great article!

  • http://theactivestick.wordpress.com theactivestick

    Great post, as usual, Kyle.

    I agree with you on Markov. He would be incredibly hard to replace. I don’t know if I want to throw 5-million at Plekanec, either. (I also don’t want him in Toronto playin’ with Phil Kessel, mind.)

  • http://yvesonhabs.com Yves

    Great article Kyle.

    I think I kind of find myself in all 3 of the 3 categories you list up in the very first of the writing.

    One thing though, although there’s a bit of disappointment and my TV got yelled at just a little….. and the numerous heart attack like symptoms I felt through the Penguins and Capitals series…

    I just plain out really enjoyed this playoff run. I’m glad that although my interest in “all things Habs” is quite high…. at the end of the day, it’s entertainment for me.

    Until they give me a job that is.
    ;-)

    This team certainly did play differently then we saw in the last 15 years.

    Now… as it is every year… I’m thinking about signings, draft day…. “UFA season”….. rookie camp… training camp…. and let’s do it over again.

    365…. year round. Go Habs Go!

  • http://www.cowhideandrubber.com Kyle

    @Prax
    I still think that NHL General Managers are out of control. Somebody will offer Plekanec upwards of 6 million, and I hope Gauthier has the sense to avoid that trap. I’d take him back for 4.5 – 5 million, but that’s it. As for Markov, let’s see how he rebounds next year. Top 5-10 defensemen in the LEAGUE are extremely tough to replace. We’ve seen the Habs without Markov, and I doubt the Canadiens would let him walk away.

    The goalie debate is still a simple one for me. Halak had a magical year, but in my mind it could be a one-hit wonder type thing. Both should be retained unless another team comes along with a mind-blowing offer.

    As usual, it will be a very interesting summer!

  • http://www.thecheckingline.com Prax

    @Kyle

    The saving grace for Gauthier – Plekanec’s lack of production (despite great play defensively) and Markov’s injuries will make contract negotiations for each easier. But that might be offset by what Halak might start asking, especially with Allan Walsh on his latest ego trip.

    The question I don’t even want to ask yet is… Price or Halak? I’m sorry to say it but it’ll be as hotly debated as it ever was after these playoffs. Halak may no longer be affordable, or will at least fetch a higher return, and Price has seemingly redeemed himself despite not playing much these playoffs.

    Going to be a very interesting summer in Montreal.

  • Roberto

    I definitely fall into the last category. Finishing as the 3rd closest team out of 30 to the Stanley Cup is a great accomplishment. Don’t know if we would have been able to compete with the Blackhawks. I look forward to what should be a fairly active summer in terms of signings and trades.

  • http://www.cowhideandrubber.com Kyle

    @Prax
    I agree with you. I’m petrified that the status quo will be maintained. From now on, people will be ok with 8th place because of what happened this year. I assure you I won’t be one of those people. Gauthier’s challenges are clear. Deal with Plekanec, goalies and Markov next year. Aside from that, he’s got to try and upgrade the top 6 with some size. If Plekanec is back, only Andrei Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot are “moveable”. Is Pacioretty ready to replace one of them?

    I do remember 2008, and the inflated expectations of the following season. The Canadiens are still on some shaky ground. Depending on your viewpoint, the team is on the verge of a very bright future, or the same old, same old.

  • http://www.thecheckingline.com Prax

    The problem I’m facing at the moment is that this could very well have been the peak. Winning the Stanley Cup is one of the hardest things to do, and making it to the third round of the playoffs is equally as hard. And look at what happened – the moment the Canadiens faced a complete team (and the Flyers are the closest thing to being a complete team in the East) they fumbled.

    Obviously Gauthier will try his hand at making a few changes next year, but I’m afraid that the simple fact that the Canadiens provided 19 games of playoff revenue to their owners as well as the league in general will cause the team to be happy with the Status quo. And people forget that this team barely made the playoffs, despite what they did in the playoffs. Higher expectations may not necessarily be a good thing.

    I don’t want to be that guy, the pessimistic fan, I just understand that it’s incredibly difficult to make it this far into the playoffs once, yet alone more than once, and the Canadiens have a lot of improving to do if they want to do it again.

    Remember what happened two years ago when the Habs surprisingly won their division and the Eastern Conference? Despite an playoff exit in the second round at the hands of, ironically, the Flyers, in, ironically, 5 games, the expectations were high. And what happened? Swept the next year by the Bruins. Like I said I don’t want to be that guy, but if this is a trend, then next year likely won’t bring us 20 playoff games.

  • Mike

    Loss to Philly in 5 = failure


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